Sonia Says She Is 'Full-Time' Chief, Will Congress Rebels Challenge the Gandhis?

There was little left to say after Sonia Gandhi had finished her opening address, writes Arati R Jerath.

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Sonia Says She Is 'Full-Time' Chief, Will Congress Rebels Challenge the Gandhis?

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Sonia Gandhi’s assertion to the Congress Working Committee that she is a "full-time president" may have averted a showdown between family loyalists and a rebel group led by senior leaders dubbed G-23, but it in no way resolves the core issue troubling the party: the role and responsibilities of her children Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

Rahul is a mere MP from Wayanad after he threw in the towel as party president following the 2019 poll defeat. Priyanka is a general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh.

Yet, both siblings are taking crucial organisational decisions across the board as the recent Punjab crisis revealed.

It was Priyanka who pushed to appoint Navjyot Sidhu as Punjab Congress president, leading to the messy resignation of Amarinder Singh as chief minister. And it was Rahul who anointed Charanjit Singh Channi as Amarinder Singh’s replacement in the hope that the Dalit Sikh card would give the Congress a boost in the upcoming polls.

There is no evidence that Sonia Gandhi had a hand in either decision although both will impact the party’s electoral fortunes in one of its last remaining bastions. Yet, without batting an eyelid, Sonia Gandhi told the CWC that she is a ``full-time and hands-on Congress president’’.

And she backed the claim by listing her carefully choreographed interventions on current issues like the COVID pandemic and the farm protests.

``You are aware that I have been taking them up with the Prime Minister, as have Dr Manmohan Singh ji and Rahul ji… I have been interacting with like-minded political parties regularly. We have issued joint statements on national issues and coordinated our strategy in Parliament as well,’’ she insisted.

A Party in Crisis & Sonia's Defensive Play

However, it was not what she said that matters. It was what she didn’t say that suggests the leadership crisis in the Congress is far from over even as a schedule was announced for party polls culminating in the election of a new president in September 2022.

For instance, she shied away from addressing key questions on organisational matters. Prominent G-23 leader Kapil Sibal had fired a salvo some time ago asking who is taking decisions in the Congress. Sonia Gandhi skirted that question.

She did not shed any light on the decision-making process in the party and was silent on the involvement of her children in it.

Defensive play has always been Sonia Gandhi’s forte. And once again it worked for her.

She certainly took the wind out of the sails of the G-23 and its silent supporters in the party.

As one senior leader confessed later, "We have utmost respect for Sonia Gandhi and have never questioned her. After all, we are the ones who elected her as president after Rahul resigned.’’

The Opening Address, a 'Protective Shield' 

There was little left to say after Sonia Gandhi had finished her opening address.

Unlike the stormy meeting in August 2020 in which Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra lashed out at the nay-sayers, this time Sonia Gandhi threw a protective shield around the family and put herself in front to face the fire, if any.

Needless to say, no-one had the spunk to take her on and the meeting ended tamely.

Problems and questions remain. The most knotty is the confusion about Rahul Gandhi and whether or not he will return as party president.

The other puzzle is what role the family has in mind for Priyanka Vadra in the coming months leading up to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

She was in Varanasi recently, flaunting Hindu symbols with an aplomb that matches that of Modi. She visited temples, sported the trikund (three lines of sandalwood paste on the forehead) and waved a sword at a rally, which she began with a prayer to Durga. She even announced that she was observing the nine-day Navratri fast.

Priyanka’s visit immediately set the grapevine buzzing with speculation that she was laying the ground to challenge Modi in Varanasi in 2024.

There is little doubt that Sonia Gandhi has won this round for her family. By defending the manner in which the party is currently functioning, she has put a seal of approval on the moves and decisions of her children. Deal with it, she seemed to say.

For the G-23, the time for reckoning has come. Clearly, Sonia Gandhi has no intention of putting into motion their suggestion for collective responsibility in decision-making through the revival of a parliamentary board.

Yes, an election schedule has been rolled out. But the manner in which Sonia Gandhi asserted herself as party president, it is unlikely that anyone in the party will seriously challenge the dominance of the Gandhis.

The Congress is likely to remain a family run concern.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Congress   Rahul Gandhi   Sonia Gandhi 

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